Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Responses to the news that Bob Dylan had been selected for the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature have seemingly been at odds with my own.  But now Garrison Keillor seems to represent my view, though of course with his own focus.

He's also taken note of Dylan's own silence on the matter, a silence which has not surprised me.

"Precious few have dared to question the prize for Lit going to a performer, Keillor writes, "but Bob is queasy about it. We Minnesotans know about unworthiness."

He also comments on that other reluctant prize-winner of recent days, Bill Murray, who finally showed up to accept his Mark Twain Prize.  Keillor opines:

And let us, while we’re on the subject, deal with the ridiculous Mark Twain Prize for American Humor given out annually by the Kennedy Center to famous actors and comedians. Mark Twain was an author. He wrote “Huckleberry Finn,” remember? Huck and Jim on the raft? Ring a bell? He gave lectures for money to pay his debts when he was broke, but literature was his calling. The prize should go to Carl Hiaasen, a wildly humorous author from Florida who writes his books all by his own self, he does not hire writers as many of the Twain Prize winners do. Otherwise the Kennedy Center should change the name to the Shecky Greene Prize for American Comedy. Giving a prize named for the author of “The Innocents Abroad” to Bill Murray is like awarding the Heisman Trophy to a bowler. Wrong sport.

In case you think Garrison is exaggerating, previous winners of the Mark Twain Prize include Billy Crystal, Will Ferrell and Jay Leno.   Kurt Vonnegut, for example, was not among them, ever.

Naming a prize given to performers after Mark Twain is the problem--not the talent or achievement of the winners.  Giving the world's foremost prize in Literature to Dylan is in another category perhaps.  It seems at least in part like an award to flatter the many people who know Dylan's songs but have seldom if ever read a Nobel Prize winning author's books.  So far that seems to have worked.

Today's Favorite Cliche: Blame It On the Boomers

Dana Milbank at the Washington Post must not have been getting enough comments online, because he stirred it up with that cinch perennial, the slamming the Baby Boomers column.  Even more popular than slamming the Millennials since more Boomers read newspapers.

It's headlined Baby boomers have been a disaster for America, and Trump is their biggest mistake yet.  It begins:
The idealists of the 1960s have come a long way from Woodstock. After a quarter- century of mismanaging the country, they have produced Donald Trump, who with his narcissistic and uncompromising style is a bright orange symbol of what went wrong with the massive generation. And polls show that the boomers are the biggest source of support for Trump.

His evidence for boomer support is based on age breakdown, with the 50-64 cohort favoring Trump by 3 points in one poll, and by 1 point in another.  Both within the margin of error, and neither exactly a ringing endorsement.

Let's forget for a second that every era's older voters tend to skew conservative and Republican.  And we'll let slide the fact that the oldest boomers are 70 (born in 1946) and the youngest are 52 (born in 1964), within the borders of the demographer-defined post-World War II baby boom.  So that his selected demographic includes some who aren't boomers and excludes others who are.  And some of those it includes are Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama.

That in polls a few percentage points of people above the age of 50 support Trump is pretty meaningless in itself, and that most of them fit within the demographic definition of the baby boom is obviously true and just as meaningless. Until you get to this.

It is the assertion that this generation has a defined character that can be defined with a few media images: Baby Boomers equal Woodstock/hippie/radical/idealist.

It's often repeated, but that doesn't make it true. Only someone who is not a baby boomer can believe that cliche. (Except for boomers who make their living promoting it.)

There is one salient fact about the baby boom generation: it is BIG.  It was always BIG.  (It's a little smaller now as we are dying off, no doubt to Dana's delight.)

The point is that, yes, we had Woodstock with thousands of people in it.  We had antiwar marches with thousands of people marching. Lots of people in the parks in the Summer of Love, crowds in the Zen centers.  But there were more, many more, who did none of those things--and weren't always kind to those of us who did.

Those of us who were antiwar, aware and idealists were a minority within our generation, and we knew it--every damn day.  Numerically there were a lot of us.  As a proportion of our age cohort, of our "generation," we were small.

Milbank and his ilk provide no evidence that boomer "idealists" became right wing Trump supporters en masse.  That the Republican politics of the 90s was fueled by the same age cohort is meaningless beyond the fact that they were the right ages to be moving into authority in business and political institutions. (Besides which, most rightward activists I knew of in the 90s were Gen Xers. Some of them originated the far right Internet sites and methods of discourse--namely trolling.)

That most boomers are Republicans hardly comes as a surprise. The vast bulk of the baby boom were apprentice members of the silent majority.  Although that's not entirely fair--many were affected by the Vietnam war, civil rights, the Summer of Love, etc in some ways. There were many gradations beyond the cliches.

There were many many gradations even among the "idealists."  One of  the idealists who most influenced members of our generation died the other day.

 Tom Hayden was author of the Port Huron Statement that began Students for a Democratic Society--it is one of the least recognized yet most profound documents of the 1960s.  Even though he was born before the boom, as a 60s idealist and activist Hayden was an icon to some in the boomer generation.

The 1960s were at least two "decades," probably three.  The Port Huron Statement belongs to the middle 60s.  By the late 60s, when the antiwar movement was in a fractured frenzy, Hayden was indicted for conspiracy to riot in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention there, along with seven others.  It was a bogus charge, ultimately thrown out for judicial misconduct.

But the Chicago Eight were like a continuum of off-center 60s politics, from the elder (David Dellinger) to the Yippie-Dadaists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, and Bobby Seale, the one black activist who of course got the worst of it.

Now at the time I definitely had my Abbie Hoffman side.  But I also had my Tom Hayden side--more scholarly, politically more pragmatic, but yes, idealistic.  In 1969 I heard Hayden speak in a classroom in the Bay Area, probably at Berkeley. He seemed like the older student activists I'd admired on my campus in the mid-60s, before Vietnam became a defining issue.  Hayden was still being reasonable amid the turmoil and despair and all the searching of the late 60s.

Jeff Greenfield has an excellent remembrance of Hayden, who he calls "the complicated radical."  Before he became a TV commentator, Greenfield wrote speeches for candidates including Robert Kennedy.  I remember reading Greenfield's book on RFK in which he mentioned seeing Tom Hayden back in the shadows at St. Patrick's Cathedral while Kennedy's coffin was being viewed, weeping.  He opens this piece with that scene.

He notes that Hayden went on to seek political office, winning a seat in the California state senate, though he also campaigned for higher.  Yet Hayden didn't give up his ideals.  He worked for them in ways that, in the times, might prove effective, even if in small ways.

It's not so surprising to me that Hayden felt the loss of the Kennedys. (He apparently was also a source for Greenfield's excellent book speculating on what might have happened if JFK had not been assassinated.)  They also were idealists--RFK more so perhaps than JFK.

 I marched for Civil Rights and against the war, and engaged in other protests, and I backed RFK in 1968, even as some friend backed Eugene McCarthy.  We were complicated radicals, too.  Maybe we all were.  And maybe we still are.

We were young and naive--Hayden himself admits to that in connection with North Vietnam, Greenfield writes.  But as Abbie Hoffman once said,"We were young, we were reckless, arrogant, silly, headstrong … and we were right!"

Milbank cites support about generational identity from social scientists.  Good luck with that.  Bad social science must be one of those Gen X diseases.  But Milbank is also being deliberately provocative (I think) when he states as fact: "Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding. When they got power, they created polarization and gridlock from both sides."  Oh those naive Gen Xers, lost in popular cliches.  Especially that baby boomer selfishness.

Greenfield quotes a few passages from the Port Huron Statement:

“The goal of man and society,” Hayden wrote, “should be human independence: a concern not with . . . popularity but with finding a meaning in life that is personally authentic. . . .This kind of independence does not mean egotistic individualism—the object is not to have one’s way so much as it is to have a way that is one’s own.”

“We would replace power rooted in possession, privilege or circumstance by power and uniqueness rooted in love, reflectiveness, reason and creativity.”

I'll trade this "selfishness" for Gen X self-professed cynicism any day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: The Racism to the Bottom

Not content to run against the actual candidate opposing him, the Donald spent Tuesday going after President Obama.  If you consider that 1. Obama isn't running and 2. Obama is more popular than the person Trump is actually running against, it makes no sense.  Which wouldn't distinguish it from much that Trump has been doing lately.

Except that it does make twisted sense, when Trump's back is against the wall.  After all he started his current political career by refusing to believe that Barack Obama could possibly be born in the United States.  In terms of racial prejudice, it was a twofer: he suggested that Obama is a black Muslim.

His twisting of an out of context clip of Obama in 2008 on Tuesday is merely an excuse to play the most reliable card in his deck: the white supremacy card.  Suggesting that President Obama is organizing the rigging of this election is the latest dog whistle reminder to the racists among his base voters.

This clip was first played by Hannity on Faux News, and Hannity made his own racial bile against Obama clear in another context on his radio show.  It's two racists in a pod.

The attempt may seem pathetic at this point, especially on a day that the Trump campaign was trying to hide the fact that the woman holding up a Blacks for Trump sign behind him at a rally was herself white.

But this last chance channeling of racism into Obama animus is a reminder that it hasn't gone away, and it won't go away even after the culture has to deal with the spectre of channeling sexism into President Clinton animus.  The Gallup poll finding that white Americans approve of their police at a record rate at a time that police killings of blacks has been revealed, suggests that instead of concern to solve the problem, the first impulse is an us/them conflict.  Not so different from during the Civil Rights movement, before time provided it with sacramental character.

Courtland Malloy has an excellent oped at WPost on Trump voters.  He makes a good argument (quoting from Robert Reich) that economics is central rather than race, that corporate interests etc. try to divide the working middle class against itself by race.  This analysis is fundamentally sound, but Malloy finds it necessary to minimize the racism component.  I don't think that's necessary.  What's the point of debating class versus race, when clearly both are factors?  Maybe the solution is to deal first with the economic structure, but that alone won't end racism.  If it did, all-white suburbia never would have existed.

In any case, Trump's wounded desperation is apparently returning him to his most dedicated supporters.  In a piece analyzing Trump's appeal to white nationalists,  Politico:

"The celebrity New York developer has been endorsed by the nation’s most prominent neo-Nazis, as well as both current and former Klansmen. He is supported online by a legion of racist and anti-Semitic trolls, who push his campaign’s message and viciously attack journalists and politicians they see as hostile to Trump. Whether deliberately or not, the candidate, his son Donald Jr. and his surrogates have circulated white nationalist messages and imagery online."

Trump is going home.  In more ways than one.

Jammin on the Sunny Side with Prez

This is a remarkable piece of film.  Though it is from 1944, it looks innovative even today.  It's from a movie short called Jammin the Blues.  The star player is the saxophonist Lester Young.  Young worked with the Count Basie Orchestra and his own small combos.  He is particularly known for his work with singer Billie Holiday in the late 30s and early 40s, and for their close relationship.

But the singer here "On the Sunny Side of the Street" is Marie Bryant, known in her time primarily as a dancer. (She dances a bit in another part of this film.) She'd worked with Duke Ellington. She coached Gene Kelly who called her one of the finest dancers he'd ever seen.  You might hear some Billie Holiday influence in her vocal here, though it's also uniquely syncopated.

The film's director was Gjon Milli, who gained fame as a photographer, working in this case with cinematographer Robert Burks, who went on to a Hollywood career.  It was nominated for an Oscar as best short film.

A few other notes about Lester Young.  He's credited with first referring to "bread" as meaning money, and with giving us the enduring sense of the word "cool."

Young gave Billie Holiday her nickname, "Lady Day," and she gave him his: "Prez" for president.  So that makes this clip especially apropos, to mark two weeks to the 2016 presidential plus other stuff election.  Cool.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Who Is Really Trying to Rig Elections

Donald Trump took over the technique rabid right GOPers had been using, of accusing opponents of what they are themselves guilty of.  So if anybody is trying to rig this election, it is Republicans.

Red states under court orders have been criminally slow to enforce those orders so voters can register and vote.  One particular case in point is Georgia, where the latest poll shows Hillary actually ahead.

As the Washington Post reports, "But voting rights advocates in Georgia say Republican state and local election officials are undermining the fairness of the vote by passing laws and adopting procedures that deter minorities and young people, groups that typically vote Democratic...

“Georgia is ground zero, if you will, when it comes to voter suppression and voting discrimination that we’re seeing this election season,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law."

As one might expect in a state with Georgia's history, some of the efforts are less than subtle: In one county, advocates say they stopped an effort by local officials to move a polling precinct that served predominantly black voters from a gymnasium to the sheriff’s office."

Using other methods the story describes, state officials may be successful in denying or suppressing hundreds of thousands of votes in this rapidly urbanizing and diversifying state.  They may be enough to save the state for Trump, though the likely purpose of voter suppression is to save these GOPers jobs.

But Democrats continue to do well in early voting (the latest instance reported is Nevada.)  And trying to stifle overconfidence as pollsters and analysts find Trump has virtually no path to the presidency, key Dems are keeping up the pressure, going for the bandwagon effect as well as massive repudiation of Trumpism.

President Obama was quoted on this, at a CA fundraiser:“Make sure she wins big. Send a message about who we are as a people, send a clear message about what America stands for,” Obama said.  He urged them to see this as “a moment when America chose its best, and not worst, self.”

President Obama extended the argument to counter the new GOPer push to elect an R Congress to serve as a check on a President Clinton.

 He advocated "voting Democrats into majorities in Congress, changing what’s become the norm of the Republicans he blames for incubating Trump and Trumpism to think that gridlock is the ideal. All of those people need to get booted out of Washington, he said, and a reason to reject them even more strongly now that many have shifted to saying that they would serve as a “check” on a Clinton presidency.

“They’re not making an argument that we want to work with her to get things done. They are saying they’re going to say no to everything,” Obama said. “That’s what they mean by a check.”

“We’ve got to make a bold, sustained serious argument that America can do better than just gridlock, that Dems have a responsibility to work with Republicans, but Republicans have to want to actually get something done to move this country forward,” Obama said. “If your only argument is to do nothing, you do not deserve to be serving in Washington, because we have had enough of doing nothing.”

According to this Politico piece,  Clintonites are aiming for a "high single digit" win comparable to Obama's victory in 2008.  Organizational groundwork is now paying off, superstar surrogates are blitzing swing states, all aided by growing Dem enthusiasm--not just the bandwagon effect, but the galvanizing effect of Trump and Trumpisms.  In particular the third debate provided two monikers around which Dems are organizing.

Politico reports that there's a Latino group organizing in Ohio that calls itself "Hombres for Hillary."  And Elizabeth Warren made best use of the growing Nasty Women brand in her New Hampshire appearance with Hillary: “Nasty women are tough. Nasty women are smart. And nasty women vote. We nasty women are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever.”

 Meanwhile, if the Trump campaign wasn't in enough trouble, an emerging story may have been enough on its own to sink it, if it proves out: UK's Telegraph reports that a Trump PAC was prepared to take a $2 million illegal donation from a Chinese donor in exchange for influence in the White House.

The Donald Chronicles: The Sunday Pivot and Trumpless Minus 16

The pivot that the Dems began towards emphasizing Senate and House races, which is being led by their presidential candidate, has forced the GOPers hand.  Their pivot has also begun in the same direction, although it is away from their presidential candidate, trying to sell their downballot candidates as opposition to a Clinton White House.

That's the sense of this NYTimes analysis, one among several on Sunday.

 But Hillary is still pressing her current polling advantage to urge early voting, to give her an insurmountable lead in swing states like North Carolina and Florida.  And it appears to be working (especially in Florida)--judging by these graphs.  The bulk of early voting is just beginning, and Sunday saw an ABC tracking poll taken after the third debate that gives Clinton a 12 point advantage.

This poll shows Clinton continuing to gain women voters.  It also shows that Trump's reluctance to say he would accept the voting outcome did not go over well, with most people concluding that his talk about a rigged election is making excuses for losing.

Josh Marshall extracts something else from this poll--a 12 point drop in R enthusiasm for Trump, and a decline of 7 points in Rs who say they intend to vote. These appear to be voters who first favored a candidate other than Trump.

The Democrats push in downballot races extends far beyond the Senate or even the House.  President Obama is reportedly making endorsements and ads for state rep candidates.  Earlier stories suggested that Obama's chief political activity after he leaves the White House will be efforts to ensure that Dems get a fair shake in 2020 census redistricting.  The GOP domination of redistricting in 2010 is a big reason they hold the House, and a major disappointment--if not embarrassment--for Obama and the Dems.

There does seem to be a Wave building in the media for the idea of a political Wave on election day, but the Senate is surely not yet a lock for Dems (though FiveThirty Eight now sees the chances at 72%) and the House still looks somewhat remote.  I don't want to get my hopes up for that yet--after all, I'm an SF Giants fan who listened to them blow a 3 run lead in the 9th to end their postseason.  But I know how important a Dem Congress could be, and I am especially intrigued by one of the amazing possibilities, which is Texas.  Polls show the presidential race surprisingly close.

So this is an episode of the Donald Chronicles in which Donald is mostly absent.  Some folks are worrying that the media can't get over its Trump addiction on November 9.  Looking at the weekend's stories, this process may already have begun.  The news is moving on.  Hillary is making more campaign appearances and they are being covered.  She will campaign this week with Elizabeth Warren and (for the first time) with Michelle Obama, and no doubt there will be final week events with President Obama, whose approval rating has ticked up even more.  The political race coverage will concentrate more on the Senate and House.

 With just over two weeks until election day, and nobody taking anything Trump or his surrogates say seriously, we might consider this the withdrawal period.  There may yet be a few twists and turns, but with the Dem turnout machinery getting started and with the possibility of  a few more polls like today's ABC, that withdrawal of attention may well continue.   Trump's "suspense" on accepting defeat after election day returns may be his last big moment on the national stage.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

On the Sunny Side of the Storm

The particular virtue of this rendition by Gale Storm is that it includes the musical/lyrical introduction that many popular songs had, but that are most often omitted.  "On The Sunny Side of the Street" was composed in 1930 by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Dorothy Fields.  It was pretty much McHugh's most famous song (together with "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," also with lyrics by Fields) but Dorothy Fields was one of the greatest lyricists of the golden age of the pop song, right up there with Cole Porter.

Boomers will remember Gale Storm as a comic actress from her 1950s TV shows "My Little Margie" and "Oh! Susanna."   She was so intensely high energy she could have been an advertisement for amphetamines.  Like a lot of 50s TV stars she had an earlier career in the movies and as a singer.  Here she's pretty mellow, in a scene from the film Swing Parade of 1946.  Despite the title it was a modest little movie, of which she was the star.  It's notable for guest numbers by Louis Jordan.  And yes, those are the Three Stooges in the background.  In addition to their own short films they appeared in regular movies, often as hapless henchmen, or "stooges" of a more important character.

The New Normal on the Way to Catastrophe

Since 11 of the past 12 months have broken temperature records, it doesn't take a climate scientist to note that this year is pretty much guaranteed to be the hottest on record.  We're getting used to hearing that (as well as similar comparisons that go a lot farther back in time), so it maybe it takes a slightly different way of looking at it to get our attention.

Here's what got mine.  At the end of a detailed blog entry analysis on "our record warmth,"  Dr. Ricky Rood at Weather Underground mentions:  "Right now, however, it looks as if the Earth has warmed to the point that what is a cool phase today is comparable to what was an extraordinarily warm event less than 20 years ago."

Take that in.  The new normal is hot.

The structure of that thought reminds me of predictions from 25 or 20 or 10 years ago of what would happen if there was no concerted effort to address global heating.  The hottest days now would be the coolest days in that future, etc.  We were warned over and over that we had x number of years to get it right.

And we didn't get it right.  Not in time.  The climate crisis is here.  It's the new normal.  And it is going to have immense effects on the future of life on Earth.

And of course, we still won't admit it.

To be fair,  scientists 15 or 20 years ago may have underestimated the speed with which we would feel consistent effects of greenhouse gases on global climate.  This particular change in our present climate may have been in the cards anyway, due to greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere at that point.  But that's not necessarily true for the world a few years from now.  If we had acted, it might not get worse.  But it is going to get worse.

It's also obvious that our political system has failed in addressing the climate crisis.  Or to be more precise, our political system in its interlocked relationship with our economic system.

That President Obama and his administration accomplished as much as they did is nearly miraculous.  President Obama jump-started the now thriving clean energy industry, he regulated carbon emissions, he led in getting the world together to pass the Paris accords and just last week, his administration-long efforts to ban the greenhouse gases known as HFCs paid off with 200 nations agreeing on a schedule to do so.

While Barack Obama made his position clear on the climate crisis in both of his campaigns, he really didn't talk about it much.  And neither did anyone else.  The topic got exactly zero minutes of discussion in the 2012 Obama-Romney debates.

This year, discussion of the climate crisis got all of five minutes and 27 seconds in the Clinton-Trump debates, about 2% of the time spent, mostly on absurdities.  That was only because Hillary Clinton brought up the subject.  There wasn't one question on it.  The most important issue of our lifetime--and not a single question...again. The only question on energy was asked by a citizen in the town hall debate.

Hillary Clinton does have an active interest in the issue, and various methods of addressing the climate crisis are reportedly under discussion.  But the time that it's possible to act on the climate crisis without much mentioning it--which even the majority of Americans who want that action taken probably prefer--is going to come to an end soon.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Tless minus 18

While Republican candidates for Senate and House seats ignore the Donald and fight for their political lives, the Democrats are not making it easy for them.

 President Obama's takedown of Rubio in Florida the other day--and his recording of a large number of personalized TV commercials for Dem candidates--was followed by Hillary Clinton going after the R Senate candidate in PA, Pat Toomey in much the same terms, chiding him for (essentially) cowardice in not standing up to Trump.  The Dem party is also pouring money into red states Indiana and Missouri supporting downballot candidates.

At the same time, the Donald meanders in PA--a state he has scant hopes of winning, yet one he desperately needs--ostensibly talking about the noble things he'll do in his first 100 days--like suing the women who've accused him of sexual assault, presumably including the latest who came forward Saturday.  Which makes at least 12.

Meanwhile, more evidence of early voting success for Clinton, and I'm sure anecdotal support for the sense of an upcoming Landslide.  Early voting is way up in northern VA--more likely Clinton voters--while it is down in more Trump-friendly parts of the state.

Josh Marshall refers to reports of long lines at early voting polls in various states, notably North Carolina. "People are waiting three and four hours to vote. It's genuinely shameful that we, as a society, find this acceptable. And yet millions of people are lining up to vote. They are undeterred."

That's the best antidote to voter suppression.  Be undeterred.  Refuse to be intimidated.

For those still having trouble warming up to Hillary, there are two new pieces that might shed a different light.  The NYTimes has a simple but powerful story about her closest friends--who knew her as children and remain close--as they watch the third debate.  The other is an appreciation in Slate of how she handled Trump in those debates.  These are in addition to the NY Times Magazine profile I cited earlier.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Trumpless Minus 19

The countdown continues.  Nineteen days to Trumplessness.

Trump's appearance at the Smith dinner (Sad!) and his first speeches the next day are chronicled in this WPost story.  Later he went after Michelle Obama, the most popular political figure in America, and as usual distorted something innocent she said into his alternate universe political controversy.  He seems to be doing everything he can to make sure he loses.

It wasn't bad enough that at that white-tie dinner he humiliated himself in front of the people he most envies and from whom he most craves acceptance.  It turns out that a lot of voters saw him on cable TV--he was, as he always wishes to be, a ratings hit.  Yuge.

Meanwhile people are voting.  Early voting is showing a large advantage from Democrats, especially in key battleground states--and women.

Speaking of women, Trump's "nasty woman" comment during the debate that became one of those Internet things, has been translated into a t-shirt to benefit Planned Parenthood.

On the voter suppression front, there was the attack on the Internet that some speculate may be a Russian dry run for election day.  Apparently some states foolishly permit voting through the Internet.

A homegrown technique continues--in the guise of investigating fraud, state and local government sanctioned attacks on the registration process.  The largest known effort, in Indiana, devolved this week into farce, and a particularly ugly new one emerged in a California county adjacent to mine, targeting Hmong immigrants.

While the Republican party in Texas ostensibly wants to enforce the state's voter ID law with poll watchers with a distorted knowledge of that law, a new wrinkle emerged from within the alt.right cesspool.  Apparently attempting to avoid rules governing poll watchers, a Trump associate says he organizing volunteers to conduct "exit polls" at select precincts, and you can guess how they were selected.  It's a devilish plan, and even has people debating the accuracy of exit polls.  But it's pretty clearly voter intimidation in nerd clothing.  The NYTimes has a recent history of the GOP using charges of voter fraud as a political weapon.

Trump's colossal error in refusing to say he would abide by election results comports with his authoritarian, conspiracy-theory and general sour grapes patterns of statements but it may also be a failure to understand just what he was saying.  Since the debate he's suggested he reserves the right to contest results in close contests, and he of course has that right.  Alt.right apologists point to Al Gore asking for a Florida recount (within Florida election law.)  That's only reminded journalists and Dems of how Republicans manipulated that Florida election and the recount--with the necessary aid of the political Supreme Court.  All of that is explained by Jonathan Chiat.

Finally, the WPost remembers the adventures of Fred and Donald Trump in Washington forty years ago.  Can't be that long.  The weekly I edited, Washington Newsworks, covered Donald's proposal for the DC convention center then.  Our reporter, Tom Redburn, attended Trump's presentation and was noticeably skeptical.  Tom went on to a distinguished career reporting for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

On the other hand, we didn't have the story of Fred Trump's arrest.  Why not? I want to know.  Tom?  Jeff?  Let's go up to Columbia Station and figure it out.

Keeping Our Better Angels Alive

In the course of this campaign, Hillary Clinton has grown into the role she now seems destined to play, that of President of the United States.  But the revelation--the joyful revelation-- of this campaign is Michelle Obama.

She was The Closer for Barack Obama's campaigns in 2008 and 2012.  She wowed the world with her speech at the Democratic National Convention this year.  And her recent speech in New Hampshire, so many say, is destined to be the most memorable of the campaign.

But if you want to know why she was The Closer for Barack, and why she is the Closer for Hillary, this speech in Phoenix on Thursday is exhibit A.

I know what this kind of speech at this time close to the election is supposed to do: it's to remind people why they're for somebody (and why they're against somebody) while convincing the few who aren't sure; it's to motivate and inspire voters and volunteers, with a call to ideals and purpose, with the urgency of the moment, with the sense of enthusiastic belonging to an important cause.  It's to thrill.

And nobody does this better than Michelle Obama.  From the moment she stands on stage and then begins speaking in that unique voice, perfect diction yet informal, a clear voice that throbs with feeling and energy, it is impossible not to listen enthralled.

In this speech she does all those things by grasping the feeling of the moment--the shock and despair brought on by Donald Trump and his Republican enablers.  She gets to it by getting back to the Obama theme: hope.  She further elucidates its meaning in this campaign context, starting with a line that will live on beyond this speech:

"Hope is what keeps our better angels alive. It’s been the driving force behind everything we’ve achieved these last eight years, and it’s been at the heart of my life and my husband’s life since the day we were born.

And I think one of the reasons this election has been so difficult for so many of us is because that's what’s being lost; in all the hateful, hurtful rhetoric we’ve been hearing, we’re losing hope."

She relates the concept to the struggles of people whose goals for themselves and especially for others are focused by hope.  That hope, she says, is realistic because of American equality and the opportunity it provides.  Equality implies diversity and tolerance, civility and paying what you owe.

She speaks with authority on the demands of the presidency. "Because here’s the thing about Hillary, she is a policy wonk -- and let me tell you, just for the record, when you are President that is a good thing. (Laughter and applause.) When you are President, being able to clearly articulate detailed plans to help the people of this country is a good thing. (Applause.) Knowing what you’re doing is a good thing. (Applause.)

Many today have reviled Trump for refusing to say he will abide by the election results, but few have articulated why that's monstrous, other than it's the common stance of a putative dictator:

"...we are fortunate to live in a country where the voters decide our elections, the voters decide who wins and loses. Period. End of story. And when a presidential candidate threatens to ignore our voices and reject the outcome of this election, he is threatening the very idea of America itself -- and we cannot stand for that. (Applause.)

You do not keep American democracy “in suspense.” Because look, too many people have marched and protested and fought and died for this democracy. (Applause.) Please."

With words to motivate people in the crowd to gather the votes necessary to turn Arizona blue, she imparts a general message that we all need to hear:

"So let me just say this, do not let yourself get tired, or frustrated, or disgusted by everything we’ve seen in this campaign. As you’re out there working your hearts out, here’s what I want you to be: Please be encouraged. Please be encouraged. If I leave you with one thing, be encouraged."

The Donald Chronicles: 20 Days to Trumplessness

Donald's disastrous debate Wednesday was expected to be his last big pre-election debacle, because it was his last political opportunity on the national stage.  Nobody was even counting the Al Smith dinner tonight, a bipartisan affair for charity, in which candidates could take humorous digs at each other while affirming a common commitment to truth, justice and the American Way.

And then he blew it up.

Trump's jokes were so tin-eared, his delivery so bad, that after awhile there wasn't even embarrassed laughter.  And he sprinkled in hateful political comments that drove the assembled NYC plutocrats to actual booing.  Somehow Trump managed to humiliate himself even further, by unmasking himself as a tired dark-hearted husk.

Hillary's jokes were a mixed bag, some very sharp, especially on the page, and her delivery wasn't bad.  But her comments at the end of her time speaking were generous, appropriate and presidential--while still making the contrast between herself and the Donald. The Daily Beast covers this.

 When they make the movie of this campaign, this dinner will be what the Army-McCarthy hearing moment was to Joe McCarthy--the moment of revelation to everyone in the room, and everyone watching.  He may have a sad alt.right afterlife, but he's clearly always wanted the respect of people in that room, and he lost it in a particularly obvious way.  His wife's face said it all. Wednesday's debate was the end of Trump for President. This dinner was the end of Trump.

Except of course for the next 19 days until election day.

As for the debate reaction, Thursday morning's was much like Wednesday night's.  The biggest loser, according to GOPers quoted in Politico, were down-ballot Republican candidates.  With his threat to not accept the election results, he gave more voters more reason to repudiate him with one big pull of the lever marked D (so to speak.)  (Trump did walk back his statement a bit on Thursday, however, saying he would accept "a clear result.")

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton was getting more praise--especially from and about women.   Melissa Batchelor Warnke in the LATimes was especially eloquent.

Warnke also quotes Clinton from the debate that should be a joke (akin to one President Obama made at the White House Correspondents dinner in 2011), but unfortunately isn't.

“Back in the 1970s, I worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. And I was taking on discrimination against African American kids in schools. He was getting sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination in his apartment buildings.

“In the 1980s, I was working to reform the schools in Arkansas. He was borrowing $14 million from his father to start his businesses.

“In the 1990s, I went to Beijing and I said women’s rights are human rights. He insulted a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, called her an eating machine.

“And on the day when I was in the Situation Room, monitoring the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, he was hosting the ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’”

But the most politically interesting situation on Thursday wasn't the presidential race.  It was the Senate race in Florida, and the favored Republican candidate (and former Senator and Prez candidate) Marco Rubio.

Rubio made some mild news in recent days, by pledging to serve his six year term (which means he wouldn't run for Prez again in 2020) and by being just about the only voice to warn fellow Republicans against using Wikileaks material and thereby give political credibility to material stolen and perhaps altered by a foreign power, in this case Russia, in order to influence the elections. “Further, I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us,” he said.

These two statements sound like Rubio's return to a more independent--and sane--approach to issues, and a seemingly new commitment to the Senate.  (He said it might take him more than one term to accomplish his goals.)

But he failed to take the next step, and repudiate his endorsement of Trump.  For that, he took the full rhetorical assault of President Obama during his campaign speech in Miami.

"How can you call him a ‘con artist’ and ‘dangerous’ and object to all the controversial things he says and then say, 'But I'm still gonna vote for him?' C'mon, man!"

“It is the height of cynicism. That's the sign of somebody who will say anything, do anything, pretend to be anybody, just to get elected. And you know what? If you're willing to be anybody just to be somebody, then you don't have the leadership that Florida needs in the United States’ Senate," Obama said before urging the crowd to vote for Rubio’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

This might have taken Rubio by surprise.  There was a story just days ago that the Dems were moving resources previously committed to supporting Murphy to other states, so it seemed they were giving up on the Florida Senate race.  Apparently not.  And chaining Rubio to his tormentor Trump may be the unkindest cut of all. (Below: Obama audience in Miami, a great photo from the NYTimes.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Post Debate Recovery: Sunny Side of the Blues

I've selected versions of "The Sunny Side of the Street" that have videos--with this exception, because Roosevelt Sykes' version is unique.  It's the closest to a classic blues treatment from a legendary blues pianist and singer.  Roosevelt Sykes was a mainstay of the pre-electric Chicago blues scene, and then spent years in New Orleans.  This is a song from very early in his career--he started in the 1930s.  It's about a two and a half minute version, very tasty, so while there's no moving pictures to look at, there's something special to listen to.

Also, it seemed a blues version was most appropriate to aid recovery from the final 2016 presidential debate.

The Donald Chronicles: He Nails It--Shut (with himself inside)

 The third and final 2016 so-called debate is over, and before we get to winner and loser talk, there is a headline from the debate that virtually every news outlet is leading with: Challenging pillar of U.S. democracy, Trump says he may not accept election result.
That's the actual Reuters headline but the sense of it is bannered at the top of almost every report of this debate.  It's also reportedly the top story on the TV networks and the most discussed moment on social media.

Trump has of course been saying all week that the election is rigged against him (though he said in this debate that he was going to win), but that he said this at the end of this debate--and earned a memorable rebuke from Clinton--quickly became the debate's most important moment, and, many said, most consequential moment--nailing the coffin of his campaign dead shut.  Even conservatives condemned this remark.

Here was how Politico characterized this moment: "Truly historic moments are rare in politics. But this was a thunderbolt that might have spelled the end for Trump’s dynamic, disorganized and self-destructive campaign and the elevation of the first female major party nominee, whose precision and preparedness has often been overshadowed by her flashier opponent."  

Politico also called it the biggest mistake of Trump's life.

In terms of winner and loser, it seems unanimous.  The Atlantic's headline: Clinton Nukes Trump's Remaining Chances: The Democratic nominee threw her rivals own words back at him, to illustrate his unsuitability for the office he seeks.

The theme that runs through most analyses is that Trump may have destroyed himself, but Clinton was very good--and presidential.

Polls: The CNN instant poll said Clinton 52%-39%.  Youguv had it 49-39.

Chris Cillizza's Winners and Losers, Washington Post:

Winners 1. "Hillary Clinton: This was the Democratic nominee's best debate performance. She finally figured out the right calibration of ignoring and engaging Trump. Given her considerable edge in the electoral map, Clinton didn't need a moment in this debate, she simply needed to survive. But she had a moment, anyway — with a stirring answer in response to Trump's comments about women and the allegations against him of groping nine different women. Clinton, borrowing from Michelle Obama's speech on the same subject, was deeply human and relatable in that moment."

Losers 1. Donald Trump:"...His signature moment — and the defining moment of the entire debate — came when he refused to say he would concede if the election results showed he had lost. Trump's I'll-just-wait-and-see answer was a total disaster and will be the only thing people are talking about coming out of the debate."

Andrew Sullivan: "In my view, this was easily the most decisive debate. She devastated him. He melted down. His refusal to accept the results of this election disqualifies him automatically from any office in the United States. There were several areas where he was utterly incoherent, grasping at “facts”, without any understanding of policy. His personal foulness emerged. It seems to me he also has internalized that he has lost this election. May God save this democracy from him.

Josh Marshall: "Hillary Clinton now has a sizable lead. Trump was the one who needed to dramatically shift the trajectory of the election. By that measure, he clearly failed...The substance of the debate came down to two things. Clinton was able to deliver a handful of stinging blows against Trump, going so far as to call him a "puppet" of Vladimir Putin. This was preceded by a brutal recitation of evidence that Trump is willingly going along with a foreign power trying to interfere in a US election. Later in the debate she went after him on his very long history of saying he was cheated or contests were "rigged" when he's simply losing. These runs focused attention on Trump's most dangerous qualities. He could do little to rebut them and he shot back, quaking with angry jabs here and there like "such a nasty woman."

Far more important however were the statements Clinton and Chris Wallace provoked from Trump. The biggest one of course was his repeated refusal to accept the result of a democratic election. When Wallace first asked Trump said: "I will look at it at the time."

When Wallace pressed him again he said: "I'll keep you in suspense, okay?"
That kind of 'suspense" is precisely what makes democratic polities collapse."

Jeet Heer New Republic:
"This moment was the climax of the three debates—Trump’s final act of petulant self-destruction, and Clinton’s final moment of calmly smiling triumph—and it didn’t spring from accident or purely from Trump’s own anti-democratic malevolence. Rather, this moment—the one in which Trump revealed himself to be someone who is willing to risk the tradition of a peaceful transition of power rather than accept that he’s lost—came about because of the masterful way Clinton had handled all three debates."

Kevin Baker:
"By the end, Hillary Clinton was like a champion matador, moving masterfully around the perpetually snorting, spewing, infuriated bull she had finally goaded into going off on the same senseless, paranoid, alt-right tears. Donald Trump stomped off on one bizarre, history-making rant after another, while Mrs. Clinton deftly stepped around his horns and stuck another banderilla between the shoulder blades."

Glenn Thrush in Politico:
"There were two candidates on the debate stage Wednesday night – and both were intent on demolishing Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency...

[Clinton]was confident, relaxed and deadly-well prepared.She methodically sliced into Trump’s initial composure as if she was removing the wrapping paper from a Christmas gift: She began with a stiletto swipe at his relationship with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, dismissing Trump as a Kremlin puppet. That pulled him off the attack and onto defense, as Clinton had done so effectively in the first debate.
But her most powerful moment – possibly her best sequence of a verbose word-slaw 2016 campaign – came as Trump struggled to parry Wallace’s inevitable questioning of his alleged history of groping and sexual harassment. “Chris, she got these people to step forward,” Trump said, accusing Clinton of concocting a dozen stories of his misbehavior over three decades. “If it wasn't, they get their ten minutes of fame, but they were all totally -- it was all fiction. It was lies and it was fiction.”

"This was one of those rare moments in Clinton’s career where her passion matched her preparation. “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” Clinton said, in a lower pitch than she usually uses to pursue her case. “He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don't think there is a woman anywhere that doesn't know what that feels like. So we now know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts toward women. That's who Donald is. I think it's really up to all of us to demonstrate who we are and who our country is and to stand up and be very clear about what we expect from our next president, how we want to bring our country together, where we don't want to have the kind of pitting of people one against the other, where instead we celebrate our diversity, we lift people up, and we make our country even greater.”

Everything I Needed to Learn I Learned in Debate Club

So tonight we drag ourselves through the latest mockery of a presidential debate.  That these are the worst ever--thanks almost entirely to Trump--may mask the decided impression that usually they aren't a whole lot better.

As has often been pointed out, they are in particular not actually debates.  Not in any classic sense.  But at least in one respect, that's not just a fussy technical matter.

Let me explain.  I was a high school and college debater.  In the few times I've been asked, I've said that the best preparation I had for journalism, after the basics of writing sentences etc., was high school debate.

In debate you had to construct an argument, and you had to anticipate that the other team was going to look for flaws.  You could use rhetoric to your advantage in debate, and you could score points with criticisms of your opponents' positions.  But in making your case--or disputing the other team's case--you needed facts.   Convincingly organized facts helped a lot--but more than anything, facts themselves that had some basis in reality.

Because the most frequent and easiest question you were going to get from your opponents was always: what's your source for that assertion?  What are the facts backing it up, and where do those facts come from?  How were they arrived at?

It's true that what constitutes a credible source is as much in dispute between each side of whatever political polarity you chose, as the facts themselves.  Nevertheless, it might add a lot of clarity to these so-called debates if once in awhile one of the candidates would ask those simple high school debate questions:

What's your source?  What are the statistics that support your claim?  Where do they come from?  Who agrees with you?  Which scientists, historians, psychologists, economists, epidemiologists, demographers, etc. etc.

You would think somebody would do that, especially when confronted with a candidate who very obviously is just making stuff up.

But they almost never do that.  They just talk past each other.  They disagree, without explaining the basis for disagreement.  They shout.

These debates are basically sporting events with no actual system for keeping score, only the play-by-play and the stories afterwards.  And judging the credibility of statements becomes the work of drudgy fact-checkers.

In high school, the fact checkers were the other team's debaters.  That's a big reason they were there.

 If their presence becomes a voice in your head, you become a better debater and a better journalist.  In these "debates" there might be more basis for judging the winner and loser than a lot of disorganized impressions, if they actually debated on the basis of the credibility of their assertions.

That wouldn't be the only basis, just as it wasn't in high school debate.  But it's an important one--especially since a President eventually has to deal with the real world, and its inconvenient truths.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

President Obama: Plain Truths as Palate Cleanser

President Obama hosted his last state dinner on Tuesday, for the Prime Minister of Italy. (The guest list included Giorgio Armani, Roberto Benegni, Mayor Peduto of Pittsburgh, Jerry Seinfeld and James Taylor.)   But before the pasta was served, the President took questions from the media.  A few of his key responses:

On Trump and his rigged election charges:
"I have never seen, in my lifetime or in modern political history, any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place.

It’s unprecedented. It happens to be based on no facts; every expert, regardless of political party, regardless of ideology, conservative or liberal, who has ever examined these issues in a serious way, will tell you that instances of significant voter fraud are not to be found, that — keep in mind, elections are run by state and local officials, which means that there are places like Florida, for example, where you’ve got a Republican governor, whose Republican appointees are going to running and monitoring a whole bunch of these election sites.

The notion that somehow if Mr. Trump loses Florida, it’s because of those people that you have to watch out for, that is both irresponsible and, by the way, doesn’t really show the kind of leadership and toughness that you want out of a president.

If you start whining before the game’s even over, if whenever things are going badly for you and you lose, you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job because there are a lot of times when things don’t go our way or my way.

That’s OK, you fight through it, you work through it, you try to accomplish your goals. But the larger point I want to emphasize here is that there is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even — you could even rig America’s elections, in part, because they are so decentralized and the numbers of votes involved.

There is no evidence that that has happened in the past or that there are instances in which that will happen this time. And so I’d invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes."

On the State Dept./FBI/ emails story:
"With respect to the State Department and the FBI reports, I think you’ve heard directly from both the FBI and the State Department that the notion or the accounts that have been put out there are just not true. And you know, you can question them again.

But based on what we have seen, heard, learned, some of the more sensational implications or appearances, as you stated them, aren’t based on actual events and based on what actually happened and I think derived from sort of overly broad characterizations of interactions between the State Department and the FBI that happen a lot and happen between agencies."

On Putin, Trump, Republicans and Russia:

"In Syria, one of my earliest meetings with Putin was to suggest to him, that if Assad stayed in power, given brutality with which he treated his own people, he would see a civil war that would not be good for the Syrians, certainly, but would not be good for the world anywhere.  Rather than to work with us to try to solve the problem, he doubled down on his support for Assad, and we know of the situation that exists there. So, any characterization that somehow we have improperly challenged Russia aggression or have somehow tried to encroach on their legitimate interests is just wrong.

And Mr. Trump’s continued flattery of Mr. Putin and the degree to which he appears to model many of his policies and approaches to politics on Mr. Putin, is unprecedented in American politics, and is out of step with, not just what Democrats think but out of step with what, up until the last few months, almost every Republican thought, including some of the ones who are now endorsing Mr. Trump.

So you don’t have to explain to me how it is that some of the same leaders of the Republican Party, who were constantly haranguing us for even talking to the Russians, and who consistently took the most hawkish approaches to Russia, including Mr. Trump’s selection for vice president, now reconciles their endorsement of Mr. Trump with their previous views.

The bottom line is, is that we think that Russia is a large important country with a military that is second only to ours, and has to be a part of the solution on the world stage, rather than part of the problem. But their behavior has undermined international norms and international rules in ways that we have to call them out on. And anybody who occupies this office should feel the same way because these are values that we fought for and we protected."

The Donald Chronicles: The Whining Dictator Wannabe

Trump continues to push the idea that the election is rigged and massive voter fraud is underway, including millions of dead people voting for his opponents.  In more and more specific recruitment of supporters to "monitor" voters in African American and other minority precincts, he is encouraging intimidation and fanning the flames of potential violence.  In questioning the integrity of the voting process, he is suggesting to some that he will refuse to concede or recognize the legitimacy of the outcome.

These are the words and actions of an incipient or at least wannabe dictator.  And in this respect at least, the tawdy buffoon of 2016 is being taken very seriously.

The rigged election charge is at least an opportunity for more people to learn the safeguards in place that make it impossible, at least in the sense he means it.  (Suppressing the vote, or perhaps even fiddling with electronic voting or tabulation in key areas are other matters.)

For example, a Slate article details what many are saying--that trying to steal an election in the Trump manner is insane.  NBC shows how dead people don't vote, at least in any numbers significant enough to change a presidential election result (maybe an alderman.)  

As for the effects just the charges themselves may be having, there's evidence that many Trump supporters--including members of the RNC--believe them.  But some analysts also suggest that the idea is just as likely--if not more likely--to discourage Trump's voters from actually voting than discouraging anyone else.

One analyst compares poll results and writes that confidence in election integrity is actually higher now than in 2012, because by and large the percentage of Republicans who believe their votes and all votes will be counted has remained about the same, while the percentage of Democrats who believe that has increased--to such an extent to raise the total.

However the possibility of intimidation and even violence at polling places is being taken seriously.  This TPM article details the possibilities and the applicable laws and regulations, including gun laws, and an existing federal consent decree that specifically applies to the RNC and any attempts to disrupt voting in minority areas.  Because they've been trying that for a long time, well before Trump.

The NYTimes however asserts that Trump's call for poll watchers has no real organizational structure and so far little organized result: "Republican and election officials in cities and states that Mr. Trump has singled out for potential widespread voter fraud, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Ohio, said his message to supporters to become poll watchers had generated scant response."
"His call to monitor polling places betrays an ignorance of election laws in most states, which require poll watchers to be registered in the county or precinct where they operate.  Even though Mr. Trump’s website includes a form to sign up as a poll watcher and “help me stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election,” local officials in battleground states said they had seen no surge by Trump supporters seeking to be certified poll watchers."

However, it's the freelancers who just show up, perhaps even armed, that are the real worry.  It's a particular problem due to Pennsylvania law, which among other things allows people to gather within ten feet of a polling place.

As for Trump refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the election outcome, Dana Milbank at the WPost sets out the case that we might be in for a "civil war."  But also in the Post, Greg Sargent's Plum Line is headlined: Arsonist Donald Trump wants to torch our democracy. He will fail.  Though he agrees that Trump may intend a kind of civil war, he believes the outcome will be a convincing Clinton victory--"And Trump’s rantings will look increasingly marginal and buffoonish as we move past this ugly election and, hopefully, on to better times ahead."

So say we all, hopefully.

President Obama had words for whiner Trump and other matters, presented in the next post.  So stay tuned.

Two more national polls show Hillary with a high single digit lead.  Interesting state poll shows Clinton behind in Texas by only three points.

The Treaty That Saved the World--Twice (Maybe)

This is the top portion of the cover of New Times magazine for March 7, 1975.  This was a New York-based national magazine, kind of an upstart.  I wrote for it--I have an article in this issue, and the original "Malling of America" was published in New Times in 1978.

Anyway the article (by Michael Drosnin) teased on this cover is one of the first and most prominent articles about the destruction of the ozone layer by fluorocarbons such as Freon, used principally in aerosols and refrigerants.  One scientist--James Lovelock, the co-author of the Gaia theory, discovered that they stayed in the atmosphere permanently.  He thought they were harmless.  But scientist Sherwood Rowland discovered that they are not.

These chemicals had already created a hole in the Earth's protective ozone layer, which was leading to an increase in skin cancers and deaths.  If these chemicals continued to disperse into the atmosphere, they could destroy the ozone layer, spelling doomsday for humanity.

The article is called Not with a bang, but with a pssssst! because one of the predictions is that if quantities of fluorocarbons continue to destroy the ozone layer, civilization could be kaput by the year 2000.

This article has an intriguing opening.  Drosnin describes the standard s/f movie plot where "an obscure scientist" discovers a mortal threat, is disbelieved until finally the world unites to fight off the menace, and the factories making the fatal substance close down.  "Wrong," the article says. "The world does not swing into action.  The factories are not shut down.  And one other thing--it's not a movie."

No, it wasn't a movie. But eventually it became more like the plot he described. Though it took more than a decade, the world did swing into action, and factories weren't making stuff with those kinds of fluorocarbons any more. (Though you may notice that spray cans and refrigerators are still around.)

 And as time went on it became clear that the ozone layer was healing.  It became the greatest international success story of the age.

When Rowland's research was published in 1974, outfits who made the stuff, like DuPont literally called it "a science fiction tale" and "utter nonsense."  But further research confirmed their findings, and then in 1985, the hole in the ozone layer was observed.  And the world got serious about it.  (Though DuPont continued to insist there was no problem.)

The culprit was chlorine, and so the offending chemicals were chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons. In 1989  the Montreal Protocol created a plan that legally required participating nations to phase them out, eventually substituting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that do not contain chlorine and so do not harm the ozone layer.

It was far from a perfect solution since in 1989, the "greenhouse effect" was well known, and HFCs contribute to it.  And now, some 27 years later, the climate crisis threatens world civilization.

HFCs furthermore are highly potent greenhouse gases, and the fastest growing.  The Obama administration began efforts almost immediately in 2009 to bring nations together to ban them, and finally, last week, they did.

This weekend’s agreement by nearly 200 members of the Montreal Protocol will be legally binding, inviting trade sanctions for countries that fail to live up to their obligations. It would reduce global HFC levels by between 80 and 85 percent by 2047, helping the world avoid nearly half a degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century.

And when you're trying to keep the temp rise below 2 degrees C, a half degree is a big deal. It's another long-term process, not even beginning everywhere for more than a decade.  But the CFCs treaty goals were met ahead of schedule because of market forces, and the hope is the same will happen this time:

Environmental groups had hoped that the deal could reduce global warming by a half-degree Celsius by the end of this century. This agreement gets about 90 percent of the way there, said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

Zaelke's group said this is the "largest temperature reduction ever achieved by a single agreement."

The new agreement is "equal to stopping the entire world's fossil-fuel CO2 emissions for more than two years," David Doniger, climate and clean air program director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

But how can the US be party to a legally binding climate crisis treaty, when Republicans controlling Congress won't even admit there is a climate crisis?

The answer is that technically this isn't a new treaty requiring ratification---it's an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, an old treaty already ratified.   It was ratified in 1988 with, by the way, complete support by Republicans.  It passed the Senate 88-0.

 As Jonathan Chiat notes, In today’s environment, it would not be possible for something like the Montreal Protocol or any effective new environmental treaty to pass a Republican-controlled Senate.  He writes that today's rightists say that the Montreal Protocols and phasing out of CFCs have nothing to do with the ozone layer.

Is that a scary enough thought?  While you're considering that, here's something from today's news: last month was the hottest September since such records were kept, the 11th out of the past 12 months to be hotter than any in the past 136 years, at least.